Dr. Novak sent a letter to clients on May 1 with his billing statements bringing the problem to the attention of his equine clients. A copy of the letter was faxed to Dr. Tom Riddle of Rood and Riddle, who alerted Dr. Novak of the meeting. From the letter: "We have had a very serious problem with Fescue Grass toxicity in locally harvested hay. The main concern is with pregnant mares, foaling mares, and neonates. We are aware of disastrous problems on three farms in Ohio and Western Pennsylvania. One farm had 16 stillborn full term foals out of 16 deliveries. The others had a total of three stillborn full term foals, one deceased mare after foaling and one born with a tumor on its forehead. These problems are not a coincidence."
While Kentucky horse farms are at the epicenter of the foal loss crisis, the problem is not contained to the Bluegrass region according to a Northern Ohio veterinarian. Dr. Richard Novak drove 7 1/2 hours from his practice in Novelty, Ohio, to Lexington to attend the Late Term Abortions and Early Fetal Loss Information Session at the Keeneland Sales Pavilion on May 10.Dr. Novak, who deals mainly with Quarter Horses and draft horses in Northern Ohio and Western Pennsylvania, started noticing problems with foaling mares the last week of April."We've seen some variations, but not the sheer numbers that have been seen in Kentucky of the 60-90 day deceased, dead foals," Dr. Novak said. "In doing routine palpations, they do feel normal. But in doing ultrasounds, we might detect that it's a dead foal or really just a bag of pus."But I think the worst is over," he said, and agreed with many on the panel that the crisis has to do with the spring weather conditions increasing toxins in the pasture. He said northern Ohio has had some sporadic rain this spring, but is also almost in a drought alert. "The way its been localized (in this area of the country), you can't ignore the obvious," he said. "It all started happening in one week, and in just a couple of states. I'm sure it's connected to the frost/drought combination," he said. "There is a common vein."The problems aren't just with early fetal loss, but with late-term mares as well."For the most part they (the mares he has dealt with) have been artificially bred (Quarter Horse mares impregnated via artificial insemination) and they are going way over their due dates. They are persistently late, and when they do foal, the foals can't get out of the placenta and they die. They can't escape the placenta. Are they weak anyway? We don't know."I've been in practice 31 years and I've never seen anything like this. We've had three foals born with tumors on their faces. Growths on horses? I've not seen them--ever. I've got three foals with tumors, they're not life-threatening, but golf-ball sized tumors aren't pretty."Giving horses less pasture time, or no pasture time whatsoever was discussed at the session. "Locking them up in stalls is not the right answer," Dr. Novak said. "Going on these (mycotoxin) binders seems the right thing to do for now."